Europe: the strength of “De Facto Solidarity” by Jean-Yves Le Drian and Amélie de Montchalin (09 May 2020)


On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman announced that France and Germany were laying the foundations of European integration together in deciding that “Franco-German production of coal and steel as a whole be placed under a common High Authority, within a framework of an organization open to the participation of the other countries of Europe”.

Seventy years later to the day, let us remember the courage that was required to reach out to one’s former enemy; the audacity to focus a peace and reconciliation project on “regions which had long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims”; and the insight, to understand that, given the new geopolitical balances which were emerging, the strength of our nations would soon be determined by the closeness of our ties.

Let us assess together how far we’ve come, a spurt of progress as opposed to the tragic events of history – the ruins of the first year as opposed to the prosperity regained, and the division as opposed to the promises of regained unity based on humanist values that we share across Europe and democratic principles that we have chosen to adopt.

Let us fully revisit the spirit of the Schuman Declaration, not only to remain true to our common memory, but also to find responses to the concerns and questions of our time. In the face of the crisis that is completely overturning our lives and some of our constant beliefs, let us get back to the basics of European integration: the cooperation of States to serve the people, concern for concrete achievements and the strength of solidarity to serve human beings above all. This is what we need to do.

Because what has given us strength in recent weeks are in fact these acts of de facto solidarity that the Schuman Declaration recommended be a foundation for European integration: these acts of de facto solidarity performed by healthcare workers from Germany, Romania or Luxembourg busy saving lives of Italian or French patients, are expressed in each of the things we do to help each other and ensure the future of our economies and jobs.

In the future, to learn the most we can from this crisis, we should firmly pursue, in the field of public health, a Europe that protects, in line with the call issued by the President of the French Republic in September 2017. How? Again, by multiplying acts of de facto solidarity, to serve an even more proactive, sovereign and inclusive Health Europe. We must be able to ensure that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control can more effectively sound the alarm at the first sign of danger, compile strategic stocks of health products and equipment, pool our research efforts and strengthen the ties between our hospital services.

We must also be able to learn the most we can from this crisis to better organize our common Schengen Area, for example by setting up a more integrated mechanism for managing our borders.

The Europe of the Schuman Declaration is also a Europe that is capable of “creative efforts” to confront the dangers threatening it, with Europeans, but also with women and men from all over the world. It is a Europe working to defend multilateralism and global public goods, such as international peace and security, but also the environment, biodiversity and human health, which are intrinsically linked.

More than ever, our world needs a Europe that is determined to champion this vision.

Today, Europe is clearly up to the challenge. It has so far been able to raise €7.4 billion in pledges worldwide to support the global response for coping with COVID-19. It supports the efforts of the most vulnerable countries, especially in Africa, which, again, is completely in line with the Schuman Declaration that since 1950 has put an emphasis on the strong ties between Africa and Europe.

In the future, Europe will still be there, alongside its partners, to strengthen global health governance. We will advocate ambitious reform of the only universal public health organization, the WHO, which must have the means to fully play the vital role it has been given. We will advocate more effective coordination of those working in health across the globe. We will advocate making transparency a focus because it is the best way to prepare us for dealing with possible future pandemics. To alert governments and inform the public, a high-level global council on human and animal health could be created, similar to the IPCC.

To act “on one limited but decisive point”, to bring to the world “the contribution of an organized and living Europe”: this is what we proposed to Europeans, 70 years ago. Times have changed; today’s challenges are not the same as those of the past. But our continent has returned to a time when it has to make choices. We believe and we know that the spirit of the Schulman Declaration can still guide us. Let us never forget where we come from, let us never forget from where our continent draws its strength – and we will continue to write our history together, the great history of solidarity, which has formed Europe.